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The Black Paragraphs

by Adrian Potter


Sometimes, we die of such blackness, after becoming a smudge on the margins. Slice right through layers of scar tissue with a boning knife. We are all about wanting and weariness. Something as American as insider trading or prejudice. If we kill it, we can name it. This exit wound bleeding on the fringes, this tension, this contrast between shades. How we choose to kick the can down the road instead of tossing it in the trash. We loiter on street corners in American neighborhoods knowing our presence has American implications that linger in the minds of some who protect and serve. Their disdain seems familiar and sinister and still undoubtedly American. We wait with held breath for change. We see it directly in front of us, yet it remains untouchable as a coworker’s backside. We wait for our ache to subside, for the slow-burning hallelujah of healing to arrive.


We’ve become your very favorite scapegoat, your favorite spectacle. Complete with trap doors in our bodies that open to secret rooms full of neglected dreams. Strange notions push us to fret over backhanded praises and question synthetic outrage. Such vastness is terrifying, the unmapped void of our collective identity. Darkness spreads its tentacles across the infrastructure of our souls, sings like the static between radio stations. The rough weather of our displaced smiles takes up a lot of attention, but we still recite mantras and spirituals by memory, sugar our voices into defiant whispers. Gust and swarm until nothing remains but typecasts and perceptions that loiter on the wrong side of town. You see us underneath the flickering bulbs of streetlamps. Our reluctant halos of illumination.


From this vantage point, all our people are in danger. All our people buried alive by armfuls of insults and feigned apologies. I do not know what to say when our nerves split and ache. The inevitable movement of our hands to our mouths cupped with surprise. Only that I speak in strained metaphors about racism straining society. Only that the slick tongues of reporters continue spinning their convenient narratives inside echo chambers. Only that I laugh, but only because I could die laughing here, with threadbare patience and sanity slow leaking like a pinpricked tire. From this vantage point, we could turn our faces away from the hypocrisy, but something oppressive hovers over us. It keeps pressing a pillow hard into our faces, suffocating us into silence, into submission.


The angels chant all night, crooning hymns for the fallen innocents that we immortalize as hashtags or on T-shirts. I can’t tolerate the status quo. I can’t tolerate anything but the long, gradual roll towards equality. But then again, none of us are getting out of this alive or intact. The children cursed to have scratch-and-dent spirits. Their parents rummaging for remnants of hope on dollar store shelves. Everyone else pretending things will get better and going on and on about progress. Even politicians know the gig is up, with the veneer of democracy on fire and this deliberate creep towards dystopia. Regret touches everything prejudice touches, but then again, prejudice touches everything - sutured communities, candlelight vigils, peaceful marches, feral uprisings. The world inhales as heaven catches hell above us.


A few more moments and we might disappear into the background. Vanish into the ether of expectations. Our culture dissolving into the mist, our unnatural selection into gentrification. No sooner do we place ourselves against the system and gaze toward the future than the past starts shackling our ankles. Our spines sore from shouldering residual shame and artificial bravado. But then who knows which inheritance weighs more? Who knows which way the storyline will be spun, exploited, and exported? The blues sound bluer here, more melancholy than expected. Our thoughts are transient and transmuted. A few more moments and the threats all change, our cheeks exposed to society’s backhand as it pimps us into oblivion.


Folks can’t handle our anger, translate our vernacular, or relate to our attitude. They cover us with blanket statements, claim we all need coaching and counseling, yet they only prod and provoke. So we stay opinionated, defiant, but always camera-ready. When you talk about us in office breakrooms or school hallways, we hear it. We’ve been taking punches since kindergarten, so fighting is in our muscle memory. Temper, temper. Never mind the smudged napkin sketches we’ve crafted to approximate our identities. Or the bullwhip’s crack against the backs of our ancestors. We’ve relayed our familiar pleas about adverse conditions to dead ears for four centuries. So stop with all the now more than ever hyperbole. The distance separating now and ever endlessly approaches nil, until it becomes now more than ever, forever ever, forever ever.


Best believe we’ve planned an exit strategy for when things inevitably fall apart. Fuck with us and it will get so real. We didn’t make it this far by befriending enemies. Every second we breathe, we’re expected to forgive. Governments spit their shade, so we spit back, middle fingers raised. We’re free, but under onerous terms and conditions. Our foreheads loiter in the clouds, toes rooted in hallowed terrain. We remain groundbreaking. Brooding, belligerent, brave, branded by the struggle. Otherwise, black.


Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and prose in Minnesota. He is the author of the poetry collection Everything Wrong Feels Right and the prose chapbook The Alter Ego Handbook. Some publication credits include North American Review, Obsidian, The Comstock Review, and Kansas City Voices. Visit him online at

Photo by Cameron Readius

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